Hearing Is Our Least Trustworthy Sense

We like to think we perceive the world just as everyone else does. That's what makes communication possible, and without a baseline reality, how would science proceed?

We like to think we perceive the world just as everyone else does. That's what makes communication possible, and without a baseline reality, how would science proceed? But our sense of hearing is remarkably unreliable, say sound psychologists. And since hearing is one out of just five senses we use to perceive the world, that's a little concerning.


Or one out of seven if you count proprioception and vestibular sensation — and hey, why not?

Just yesterday, for example, I missed a call from an unfamiliar number, and because I haven't set up my voicemail yet (who needs it?!), I called the number back. Being wary of telemarketing, I thought I heard the woman on the other end offer me a title loan. But she clarified she was looking for a man named Gary Sloan.

Ironically, our sense of hearing is unreliable because of its robust ability to create meaning from otherwise random sounds. If we expect to hear certain words from someone, then we stitch together their mumblings into what we think they're saying (or what we fear they're saying).

Diana Deutsch, sound psychologist at UC San Diego, says that how we hear sounds depends on the tonality of our mother tongue, which varies greatly from country to country. Californians and British people, for example, hear tonal sequences differently even though they are sonically identical.

The more we learn about the limits of the human senses, the more we may question our species' ability to truly understand the world in all its complexity. As Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson explains, "We live entirely within a microscopic section of the stimuli that flood in on us all the time."

Read more at BBC Future.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less